Note to Readers: We are now entering the second half of Exodus. Here, we will shift from the flight from Egypt (the first 20 chapters) to mainly laws and regulations given to the Israelites at Mount Sinai to govern the life of this new nation. These are laws given specifically to the judges for the Israelites.
Summary of passage: Laws regarding Hebrew servants: A Hebrew slave may serve you for six years but then go free in the seventh year. A wife may go with him. However, if the wife has children, then they must stay behind as they belong to the master. If the man wants to stay, he must pierce his ear with an awl and be a servant for life. If a man sells his daughter as a slave, he gets her back if her master is displeased with her.
Laws regarding Personal Injury: If a man strikes or kills another, he is to be killed. If a man attacks his father or mother or curses them, he is to be put to death. If he kidnaps others, he is to be killed. If a man hurts another, he must be compensated monetarily. If a man beats his slave, he is to be punished if the slave dies. If a man beats a pregnant woman and she loses the baby, he is to be fined. If she dies, then he is to die. If a master hits a slave and blinds him or knocks a tooth out, the slave can go free. If a bull kills someone, the bull is to be stoned. If the bull has done this before, both the bull and its owner is to be stoned. But if it’s a slave, the bull dies and the slave’s owner is to be compensated.
3a) The Book of the Covenant
b) Israel is God’s treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation set apart from others. God holds higher standards for His people and thus all these laws that set a moral precedent.
c) James 3:1: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
We have been given everything; thus, we are expected to be more and give more. Teachers of God’s Word are also called to be more as they impart God to others. Plus, we are doing God’s bidding, not our own, when He gives us a task. It is His will and as He is the Lord of all we must obey whole-heartedly. If we fail, we fail God and whatever purpose He had for us. It has greater implications than just failing our own will.
d) Personal Question. My answer: It makes me strive for more, do more, and have a higher moral standard than others. Do the right thing always not just when “I feel like it”. I do things I don’t want to do and am the better for it. I go to church when I don’t feel like it. I help others when I’d rather be home reading a book. I give more and am enriched by God because of it. I hope my kids see this example and I try to impart this knowledge to do more than what is expected.
4) God talks a lot about slaves and women and their rights. By beginning with laws protecting the lowest on the social scale (slave and women), God was teaching the value of every human being. Every one matters is what God is saying here. To Him. Thus, they should matter to His people.
Conclusions: We are about to embark on a bunch of boring and tedious regulations that is hard for us to grasp since most do not apply to us anymore (for example slavery but also because of the New Covenant). However, there is much to be gleaned here as BSF did a fabulous job here flushing out what we can get out of laws regarding slaves and women and hurting one another:
To God, everyone matters. You and I. Our neighbors. The beggar on the street corner. The adulterer and murderer. I love how God addresses pregnant women here, giving unborn babies value. Thankfully, we (at least those of us in the West) don’t live in a society where it is common to hit women although it does happen. But here God values even the unborn. If He values them, then what does that say about our value?
End Notes: Many of these forthcoming laws set a new standard of morality for God’s people to live by, giving value to slaves and women, the poor and the aliens. Israelites were the first to give slaves rights and say what is right and what is wrong.
Note how God addresses slavery first–to a people whom He just rescued from slavery! Slavery was a fact of life in the ancient world and here God is working to tame it. He knows in time it will die out. He is setting the first precedence for that.
Most of slavery with the Israelites was of an indentured servant type. None was meant to be life-long and only was used to get out of debt or some other extreme life circumstances. It was limited in other words. Note how the life-long servitude was chosen–not mandated–by anyone else.
The piercing of the ear reflects Jesus as he was pierced for our sins and chose to die and be a servant to us all (Philippians 2:7).
The selling of the daughter in this passage was when a father sold his daughter as she was engaged to be married to a son in the family. This may have been done ahead of time in order for her to work off her bride-price. Hence, she was to be returned if the marriage did not take place. She was to be treated and cared for and never harmed.
Our laws for murder and capital punishment originate here–the Bible. Since Genesis 9:6, God has laid down what is just in this respect. Furthermore, God says there is to be no mercy nor protection at the altar (in ancient times, people could find sanctuary at an altar). God is clear on His desires here. In Numbers, we learn unpunished murders defile the land.
God establishes sanctuary cities later on for those accused of murder to flee in order to await trial and to be protected from avenging relatives since in the ancient world if you murdered someone, their relatives then had the right to kill you.
Kidnapping for the purpose of enslavement is what God is aiming to punish here, something very common in the ancient world.
The cursing of your father and mother was to protect the older generations and establish respect.
Personal injury laws began here. If you hurt someone, you were responsible, especially if they couldn’t work.
Slaves in ancient cultures were not human so could be killed at any time. Here, God tells the Israelites this is not okay.
We are either slaves to Satan or to Jesus. Which are you?
Laws of retribution establish limits. If injured, you are rightfully due compensation. But limited to what was taken. If an eye, compensation for an eye, not with a life. Numbers 35:31 tells us money could be substituted instead of a life.
Caution when dealing with your slaves; least you hurt them they could be set free.
Interesting precedent here with animals as we can/should learn from this. If the animal has no previous history, then the animal only dies. If there is a previous history, then the owner dies as well. This is the difference between intent and neglect.